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US Concerned Over Disappearances in Pakistan

Pakistani Shansum Nasa holds a photo of her son, Atiq ur Rehman, who disappeared in 2004, during a demonstration outside the International Committee of the Red Cross in Islamabad, Pakistan, Jul 23, 2008 (file photo)

The US State Department has expressed concern about reports that thousands of political separatists have disappeared in Pakistan over the past 10 years. The New York Times says the concern has been expressed in a report the department has sent to the U.S. Congress, and it details findings from human rights groups in Pakistan.

The representative of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, said the latest alarm in the U.S. over reports of the disappearance of captured Taliban insurgents and some of the political separatists is a very positive development. The U.S., he said, should urge Pakistan's military to stop such practices.

The State Department said it has sent a report on the disappearances to the U.S. Congress. The report urges Pakistan to address this and other human rights abuses, saying the progress so far has been very limited.

Dayan said that soon after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, the Bush administration urged Pakistan to capture militants linked to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida. Since then, he said, several human rights groups have alleged abuses in Pakistan, although Pakistan denies the charge.

"What did happen was that because the Bush administration was effectively complicit in these disappearances, the Pakistani military used that as an excuse to engage in the practice in a very broad kind of manner," said Dayan.

Dayan also said the reason for this new alarm in Washington is the Obama administration's new policies. "I am very certain that the Obama administration has a very low tolerance for this kind illegal activity and we are very pleased that they are taking this position on this very serious issue."

Human rights activists say precise numbers of disappearances are difficult to pin down because family members fear that reporting missing relatives could endanger the relatives or themselves.

In Washington, the State Department said they are talking to Pakistani officials and continue to monitor the situation closely.

In Islamabad a government official refused to comment on the newspaper report, and it has been the government's stated policy that it does not react to media reports.

The New York Times quotes the Pakistani ambassador in Washington as saying the Pakistani government and courts are investigating cases of disappearances.

Dayan says the Pakistani government will have to act now because otherwise it will feel the consequences.

"Because it is unacceptable to the international community and to the world in general and to Pakistanis for that matter," said Dayan. "We are in conversation with the Pakistani government on these and other issues both privately and in the public arena."

Dayan said his Human Rights Watch group has been urging all sides to avoid such human rights abuses. "We document abuses by the Taliban, by al-Qaida proxies, by the United States and by countries such as Pakistan. We urge all actors to adhere to international standards in the transaction of their conflicts."

Dayan said he hopes the latest alarm in Washington over this issue will help his human rights group to attract an international focus on the situation and any pressure on Pakistan from the U.S. Congress will definitely help in that.